Countries must promote indigenous rights

Africa Caucus highlights education at UN

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

May 22nd, 2013

With one indigenous language dying out every two weeks, with indigenous livelihoods under threat and with , the Africa Caucus of indigenous peoples has appealed to UN member states to take concrete steps to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

In particular, the Africa Caucus used the 12th session of the  (UNPFII) to urge countries around the world to promote more culturally sensitive education and better access to schooling for indigenous peoples – as well as safeguarding traditional knowledge rights.

In a statement presented by Baba Festus, a Khomani San woman, the Caucus – through the (IPACC) – called on UN member states to introduce mother tongue education from a young age, and develop a curriculum that respects cultural diversity and incorporates traditional knowledge.

In addition, the Caucus – which represents indigenous peoples from across the continent, including the San, Tuareg, Masaai, Samburu, Batwa and Nubian communities, and is supported by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) – urged member states to ensure that every child is able to exercise his or her right to education by working to secure indigenous access to schooling.

The Caucus stressed that “measures should be taken to make education accessible (e.g. mobile schools for nomadic and remote rural communities) and tailored to indigenous social backgrounds and needs in line with Article 15(1) of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The Caucus also encouraged states to “ensure a legislative framework is put in place to implement its recommendations” and called on UNESCO and UNICEF to provide guidance on how to implement them.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement presented by Xuxuri Xuxuri, a San youth from Botswana, the Africa Caucus urged member states to implement relevant international instruments that address traditional knowledge, including the (UNDRIP), Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, and the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Expressions.

The statement stressed the crucial link between the protection of cultural and biological diversity and called on member states to “recognise this link when implementing international commitments” and to “fully include indigenous peoples in the drafting and implementing National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans.”

The Caucus also highlighted the “continued non-recognition of traditional indigenous forms of livelihood such as hunting, pastoralism and fisheries” and urged countries to “withdraw all restrictions on rights concerning traditional livelihoods” so that indigenous peoples are “able to freely engage in their traditional activities.”

One of the main threats to traditional livelihoods is the continued loss of land through dispossession by extractive industries, deforestation and conservation policies. The Caucus called for action to ensure that “indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources are respected and protected” as outlined in the UNDRIP.

Finally, the statement also highlighted the need for research into the diversity and importance of gender relations in indigenous communities – and for such research to draw on active community input.

It is a long list of recommendations but – as the on his visit to Namibia makes clear – there is a lot of work still to be done to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people. And if countries adopt these recommendations, they will go a long way towards improving the lives and livelihoods of Africa’s indigenous peoples.

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